This story was written in response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge “Ten Random Sentences.” It was written sitting at the bar of an Applebee’s in Panama City, Florida, while I drank an IPA and ate a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich. I hope you like it as much as I liked that IPA and BLT.
Sixty-Four Comes Asking For Bread
“Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.”
I could see the shadow slowly kill the feeble light beneath the door.
“Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.”
I walked slowly to the door and slid back the rusty metal cover to the pass-through.
“Are you Sixty-Four?”
The man I saw was little more than a skeleton, his robe dingy and covered in spots with flour dust. The pockets hung loose, victims of years of having thin fists stuffed into them. Ironic that this fossil of a man was wearing a garment almost as valuable as the dust covering it. Flour was the last remnant of a civilization that did not exist anymore. At least not on earth. A small patch of wheat had been included in the subsistence plant on the Sheridan County, the ship where I had been imprisoned for the last 47 years. I am a relic too. Sentenced before earth was deemed uninhabitable, so I was loaded like cargo, to live out my years in this coffin of a cell.
“If you’re Sixty-Four, you should bring the bread.” I said.
His thin hands held a small woven basket, covered in a clean, white linen napkin. The smell of fresh bread wafted from it like soft perfume from the neck of a breeding-age monoclass.
“Oh yes. Forgive me. Sixty-Four brings the bread.”
“Give it to me, Sixty-Four.”
He lifted the basket towards the pass-through as if he was holding a newborn baby. But this was much more precious. I reached through the opening and took the basket. The warmth of the freshly-baked loaf coursed from my hands and through my body, helping to stem the constant chill of my cell, if only for a few moments.
“I’ll be back in an hour.” he said. “Please be ready.”
“Oh, I’ll be ready.” I laughed.
My release, mandated through the ship’s tribunal, had been scheduled for today. My cell, and the section of ship that contained the prison, was needed for the ever-expanding population of the colony onboard. I was going to be freed. The decision of what came next had been left up to me, and it was an easy one. Anything was better than spending another second in my cell. The bread was a reward; given to each inmate who completed their sentence and did so under honorable conditions. Typical subsistence on the ship consisted of a bland liquid, perfectly nutritious, but painfully void of the enjoyment some of us remember from a simple meal back on earth. To be given bread was a once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime event.
I broke the small baguette in two, letting the steam and smell fill my nose. I inhaled deeply, and then bit into one of the halves. It was sublime. Memories of meals long past came flooding back to me. I stared for a long time at the second half, trying to freeze this moment in time. The second half went almost as quickly as the first. Before I knew it, the bread, like a dream, was gone. A tear coursed down my face, and I wiped it away with a grubby hand.
I heard the shuffling of feet outside the door.
“It is time, Forty-Three.” said a voice outside.
I heard a key inserted in a lock, and with a painful squeal, the door swung open. Three men in robes of plastic stood outside, one holding a small bag.
“Here are your things.” he said, holding the bag in his outstretched hand.
I took the bag, and slowly opened it. Inside I found a few of my possessions, surrendered when I was imprisoned many years ago: a pencil and small notebook, a wristwatch, and several coins. I held the watch to my ear, listening for the telltale ticking noise. It was silent.
“What’s that?” said one of the men.
“A watch.” I replied.
“What’s a watch?” he said.
“It is…Nevermind.” I said, and handed it to him. “Here, keep it. we used to wear these to tell the time. I guess we’re a bit beyond that now, though.”
He took the watch from me and stared at it blankly.
“Thank you.” he said unconvincingly.
The others stared at him, and then at me.
“It is time to go.” the tall one said. “Follow me.”
He turned and started walking down the corridor, and I followed. The other two fell in behind us.
“It isn’t far” he said, “But we will not hurry.”
“That’s fine” I said, “I’m not in a hurry, besides it is nice to stretch my legs for once.”
I rubbed my close-shorn head and tried to sneak a look at my reflection as we passed a glass porthole. I didn’t recognize the person who looked back at me. We walked through a warren of corridors, similar only in their level of decrepitude. Before long, things started looking a bit brighter, as if someone might have actually cared about their environment. Almost imperceptibly, I detected the scent of bread. The longer we walked, the stronger it got.
“We are here.” said the tall one. “Stand to the side.”
We stood in front of a large iron pressure door, a gauge to the left indicating that the pressure behind was slowly equalizing to the corridor in which we stood. Once the pressure differential read zero, the tall one turned a handle, and with an audible hiss the door swung open.
“You may enter.” he said.
“I hope it is what you expected.” said the one with my watch.
I stepped through into the space beyond. The smell of bread was stronger here for some reason, which made it all the more welcoming. The door closed behind me. In a few seconds, I knew the airlock door in front of me would open, and I would finally be free of this ship. I closed my eyes and smiled.